The Runaways

Director: Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon and Tatum O'Neil.
Distributor: Hoyts
Runtime: 106 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: strong drug use, sex scenes and coarse language

Another rock and roll biography – they don’t usually make for happy stories despite the seeming glamour, acclaim and money potential. This has been a staple for several decades now with films like The Doors, Eddie and the Cruisers, and Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.

What makes this film different? Well, it is the story of the breakthrough of the all girl band, The Runaways, in the mid 1970s. Whether the audience remembers, knows about or is able to take an interest in these girls, box office success or not will indicate. The theme has potential because of the girls and their performances and their fans in a generally male world. Some may remember Joan Jett from those times (and she appeared with Michael J. Fox in the 80s movie, Light of Day). She was the driving force behind The Runaways and has continued to perform for decades after they disbanded.

In fact, Joan Jett is one of the producers of the film. The screenplay is based on a memoir by the lead singer of The Runaways, Cherie Currie. Interestingly because of this, the film is more warts and all rather than a glamorous picture of the girls.

The two female stars of New Moon and Eclipse here show their abilities in quite different roles. However, Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett still tends to the more pensive (sometimes blank) expressions with a melancholy air that she brings to Bella and her twilight love for Edward Cullen. Dakota Fanning, on the other hand, really puts lots of energy into Cherie Currie, songs, costumes, some off-the-wall behaviour, making her dramatically far more interesting and challenging than Joan Jett. As a child actor, Dakota Fanning often seemed far too precocious for her age and quite a dominating screen presence. It is the same here. Her character is aged 15-16, as was the actress while making the film, and she is asked to be a provocative, sexual young woman with attraction to both sexes and a drug addict.

The Runaways’ story is simplified. Joan writes and composes but is not a good singer. They come across Cherie who has done some David Bowie synchs at a concert and been hooted for her troubles. Family life is dysfunctional. She gets on well with her sister but does not allow her to tour with her. Father is alcoholic. Mother (played by Tatum O’Neill who had been an Oscar-winning child star at this same period) leaves with a new husband for Indonesia. While momentarily hesitant, Cherie heads into this music world, boots and all, and finds success, adulation, recording contracts and a tour of Japan and hounding by rabid fans. Cherie poses for magazines which annoys the others. But, it can’t last and doesn’t. Cherie is out of control and egotistic and has to go into rehab. Meanwhile, Joan and the members of the band, after some confrontations start afresh.

But, behind the scenes and in front of the scenes, is the eccentric, egocentric promoter, Kim Fowley who masterminds much of The Runaways’ success but wants to control them – until Cherie says no. He is played in alarmingly arresting fashion by Michael Shannon. Shannon is one of the most alarmingly interesting screen presences: his madman in Bug, his frightening volunteer in World Trade Center, his Oscar-nominated turn as a disturbed man in Reservation Road, his dominance of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. He certainly brings Fowley alive, his madness, his menace and his touches of entrepreneurial genius.

Then, the film suddenly ends and we are informed that Fowley is still eccentric but that Joan Jett has had more than 30 years of singing and touring and Cherie Currie overcame her addictions and works as a youth counsellor. A more hopeful outcome than in so many rock and roll stories.

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